Through the eyes of a neighbor

One of the greatest men of God of our time is undisputedly Billy Graham. The reach of his ministry has touched the four corners of the earth.

I remember watching a message he delivered in Louisville, Ky. some years ago. He shared his realization that he was finally old, when not too long ago he thought of himself as young. He went on to say that this point in life was “definitely not the golden years.” But he feels it is a good time to look back on life and come closer to God.

If we are blessed with long life, aging is something we all will face either in our own lives or that of our family members.

My first experiences with the effects of aging came from a childhood neighbor, Bessie Yarbray.

Bessie was a regal lady who found strength in self-reliance. She was born at the turn of the last century in a farmhouse less than five miles from our subdivision. She married and raised a family of (I think) five children.

When I met her as a toddler, she and her new husband Homer moved in across the street to begin their new life together near the age of 70.

She stood around five feet, and if a strong wind blew through, it seemed she could catch hold and fly along.

She and Homer stood fast against the tide of concerns shared by both of their families over their late marriage.

While my memories of Homer are sketchy at best, I am told we had a fun relationship as he and Bessie treated me like a grandchild. My strongest memories fade-in after Homer was called home.

Bessie once again found herself starting over in a place that she and Homer hoped to share.

Bessie never learned to drive. She eventually sold Homer’s car and relied on the kindness of friends and distant kin to get her to the store, doctor and church. She would always find ways to repay their kindness so she would not be beholding to them.

She was a constant presence in the lives of all my friends throughout my childhood.

Some days the smell of fresh-baked oatmeal cookies would permeate the street in front of her house. This would always be an excuse to stop in to check on her and, of course, have a cookie or two or three.

She enjoyed watching her afternoon soaps and volunteering at Sardis United Methodist Church. She became a regular fixture among my mother’s circle of friends as she helped with school events and attended graduations and scouting award banquets.

Since we lived closer than any of her children, many of the first decisions concerning her care often would fall to my mother.

In the 70’s, doctor’s told her she had colon cancer, which required surgery to remove or she would die. While in the hospital, she changed her mind, and when the nurses came by to give her a sedative before surgery she pretended to take it. She then left the hospital never to return. It was more than a decade before she would again see a doctor. She would live another 20 years, and to my knowledge, any doctor never again mentioned cancer.

Well into her 80’s and 90’s, Bessie cared for her yard by trimming hedges; raking and mowing every week it was needed.

“If I don’t mow my yard you know something is wrong,” she would say.

She planted a garden each year, which provided all her favorite, fresh vegetables.

With the bounty of her garden, she created dishes you would not believe. Thinking of her homemade soup makes my mouth water. The soup would not be complete without a slice of her piping-hot cornbread.

With the exception of an occasional change of a light bulb or flagging down the mailman or a neighbor to have them pull the cord on her push mower, Bessie didn’t ask for much help.

Whenever sickness loomed, she always stressed to us: “No matter what, I do not want to leave my house.”

As we became busy with illnesses in our own family, other neighbors kindly stepped in to help Bessie whenever needed.

A broken hip which came while working in her yard in her mid-90’s would finally begin a short period when she had to look to others for her day-to-day needs. She even regained her strength once again and stood on her own feet.

One of the last calls I received from her came at a time when she had missed taking her medicine properly and asked me if I saw the house going down the road? I stopped and looked to see if perhaps there was a house going down the road. There was not. We followed up to make sure that she was taking her medication properly.

About a year or so later, Bessie passed away.

She never moved away from her home except for a few weeks following her broken hip. She was blessed with a strong, self-reliance that made her keep pushing forward no matter what.

She reached the finish line her way, and with her faith in God still straight and strong.

Childhood friends from far away

I crowded into the MARTA bus headed towards downtown Atlanta. I grabbed a seat as the bus filled up. A black lady in gray dress and heels got on and I noticed that there was no available seat, so I rose and moved towards the back giving her my seat. As I got situated near the rear door, I wrapped my arm around the rail of the bus and placed my feet appropriately to keep me steadied as the bus stopped and started along the rest of the trip to Central City Park. As I sat there I started looking at the man sitting near me and realized it was Mr. Olivares. He was heading to his job downtown. I had not seen him in years and initially he did not recognize me.

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Grandpa’s Lessons

As I stumbled along the dirt road, occasionally I would reach my hand up and slip it into that of my Grandpa Jesse’s. As an independence streak struck, I would then pull it back managing my steps all on my own at least for a few feet then I would once again find myself repeating the process.
No matter which action I took, I could look up into his face and see a smile beaming back at me. What an amazing gift is the special bond that grows between a loving grandparent and a grandchild.
They can give so much love and many like mine at times had the desire to share a lifetime of experience. I thank God, mine gave me the insights at a young age, to listen and learn.
I think one of the greatest lessons shared with me was how to handle yourself when you realized you have wronged someone in some way. It could be a simple as a misunderstanding or a downright disagreement.
From their example, I saw that one should admit a mistake and apologize to move the relationship forward. If you are the injured party, take the first step, express your concerns and allow the other person an easy opportunity to make amends.
If they choose not to do so, then you have done all you can to mend the fences.
Unfortunately, folks are not always in the same place at the same time.
Although Christianity teaches to forgive, that was an area that I have seen loved ones and friends struggle with throughout my life.
I struggle with it myself, often times I fall back on hardened lessons shared through the generations based in centuries of tribal or clan conflicts and feuds.
I have watched loving, caring people who would give you the shirt of their back, get up on their back legs and growl when a situation involved and ancestral enemy or a ostracized family member or former friend.
While I received lessons through oral stories, I have worked to distance myself from continuing such disputes into my life. Some even go back beyond written records. They do often add color to stories I share but for me the feuds are long past.
I find as time passes in my life, I have to work harder not to add to the list with my own experiences with other people.
It would be easy to simply write someone off, as often was a practice, and have no more to do with him or her, once they have done you wrong, will not apologize or admit a mistake.
But unless continuing that relationship is destructive, I am striving to make an effort to not fall into some of the footsteps left by my mountain highland kin through the centuries. But that’s not to say there might not be a situation that calls for their approach but I don’t know if I am up to a good sword fight, pistols at ten paces, or gathering the clan for feudin’ at any time in the near future.
So, I think the approaches mentioned earlier, might be the best for all concerned. Of course, the other person does have to be concerned. If their not, they probably shouldn’t be that important to your life anyway.

Numbers, what are all these numbers?

A previous year ends, a new year begins and then like an avalanche of snow in winter, there they come – numbers.
All kinds of numbers begin covering me from head to toe. At least that is the way it seems to feel. Slowly, paperwork trickles in over the month of January telling me what I must report to the government and the state. Piles of receipts must now be sorted, itemized, added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided.
As I pour over the numbers, I come to realization that the height of enthusiasm that helped me ring out the old year was somewhat taller than it should have been.
My father use to have a sign hanging by his dresser saying “Why is there so much month at the end of my money?”
His humorous sentiment means more to me with each passing year as I glide through the rest of winter anticipating what is ahead for the coming year.
Each year as I go through this process, I promise myself to organize as I go. I have great intentions, but as time passes, the will becomes weak and the pile become taller.
Take heed my friends, take the advice of someone whose desk has Mount Everest and three volcanoes sitting side by side upon it. I say volcanoes because I never know which one is going to explode first scattering across the room extending my adventure into another day.
Take a few minutes each day, put away your receipts in a pre-organized file. Set aside a little time at the end of each quarter to organize and add up what you have so far in the important categories that are usable in your profession.
With just a bit of planning, you will enter the New Year and in no time everything will be ready to go to your accountant or tax preparer and you will miss out on all these piles of paper.
Let’s see, what did I spend $3.67 for in Louisiana? Was I even in Louisiana this year? I must have been. Guess it goes in the “Your guess is as good a mine” pile. I wish they had a line item for that on the tax form.
Well, in any event, may the whirlwind of numbers headed your way in the coming weeks find you in the black and hopefully the list will not string you along as everything adds up, as it should.